Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Sergeant’s Take on the Siege

Sergeant Charles G. Blatchley of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (Co. I) was one of the principal commentators on the final months of the war in Charles D. Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry. Blatchley gives the following matter-of-fact description of the siege at Petersburg. I’ve underlined a couple of phrases that are explained below.

The record of these nine months before Petersburg would make a very monotonous story. There are in them intensely stirring incidents: night attacks on both sides: the thrilling experience of creeping noiselessly up with bated breath toward their lines one moment, and the next enveloped in the blinding flash of suffocating smoke of battle. I only had this once, once was enough. Or lying behind our own works with the ready rifles loaded and capped as they were, even when we slept on them: peering through the darkness into the black space in front of us, to find it suddenly swarming full of the gray and the butternut in the mad attempt to break our lines. Or perhaps back in the bomb-proofs, which we had learned to build, after from eighteen to twenty-four hours duty in the front line, just lying down for a little rest, before our eyes were fairly closed to be called out by the quick sharp rattle of musketry or the heavy detonations of the mortars or the shrieking yell of the rifle cannon shots as they came tearing through the trees. One minute in those days was ample time to transform a sleeping soldier on the reserve into a soldier alert, armed and accoutered, all ready for business. We always slept with our clothes on and unless on the rear reserve with our accoutrements on and the right hand on the barrel of the rifle.

“…even when we slept on them.” It was a common thing for Civil War soldiers to “sleep on their arms” when faced with imminent threat, so they could be ready in an instant for combat.

“…shrieking yell of the rifle cannon shots…” The Confederate artillery had several Whitworth rifled cannons in their arsenal. These British imports had a range of over a mile and were very accurate. They fired a hexagonal shell which made a distinctive howling sound as it parted the air, and might be what Blatchley was referring to.

Eating Out the Vitals

Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant knew the end of the war was near. He wrote of his grand strategy aimed at carving up the Confederacy during the winter of 1865 in his Personal Memoirs. One army, under Gen. Canby, was to move immediately on Mobile, AL, then secure Tuscaloosa, Selma and Montgomery. Gen. Sheridan was ordered to march up the Shenandoah Valley and take Lynchburg, VA. Cavalry forces were sent into eastern Tennessee and Mississippi. And the centerpiece of this strategy was “Sherman with a large army eating out the vitals of South Carolina.”

Gen. Sherman had taken Savannah just before Christmas. After a time to refit, resupply, and rest, the two wings of his army started to move into South Carolina about January 20th. The left (northern) wing was under Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum, the right (southern) wing was under Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard. Howard moved toward Charleston, then swung north, bypassing the city. Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, fell to Sherman on February 17th. Much of the city was reduced to ashes, and great debates still rage over which side actually started the fires. In great peril of being cutoff from the rest of what remained of the Confederate army, Confederates abandoned Charleston to the Federals the next day.

On the question of who burned Columbia Grant wrote, “In any case, the example set by the Confederates in burning the village of Chambersburg, Pa., a town which was not garrisoned, would seem to make a defense of the act of firing the seat of government of the State most responsible for the conflict then raging, not imperative.”

Meanwhile, on the 15th of January, Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, was taken by combined Federal army and naval forces, and Wilmington, NC, the last major Confederate port on the eastern seaboard was cut off. A month later, when Gen. Schofield moved against Wilmington with a strong force, the Confederates abandoned the city. Schofield was put under Sherman’s command and ordered to move north toward Goldsboro, NC.

By the end of February, Sherman now had three strong armed columns ready to drive up though North Carolina toward Charlotte, Fayetteville, and Goldsboro. The distance between Sherman and Grant was decreasing every day. Grant, always a quartermaster at heart, paid close attention to his friend Sherman’s needs. “I took the precaution to provide for Sherman’s army,” Grant wrote, “in case he should be forced to turn in toward the sea coast before reaching North Carolina, by forwarding supplies to every place where he was liable to make such a deflection from his projected march. I also sent railroad rolling stock, of which we had a great abundance, now that we were not operating the roads in Virginia. The gauge of the North Carolina railroads, being the same as the Virginia railroads, had been altered too; these cars and locomotives were ready for use there without any change.”

And all the while Grant assured Sherman that he was well up on things at Petersburg. “From about Richmond I will watch Lee closely, and if he detaches much more (troops), or attempts to evacuate, will pitch in.”


An Orphan’s War – Part 3

Having focused on Andersonville Prison in three January posts (01/16,15, 01/23/15, 01/30/15), it is now time to relate the last part of the singular of Private William H. E. Mott. It might be helpful to review the first two parts for better understanding of the context before reading this last part. Mott arrived at Andersonville about mid-June 1864.In early September, after the fall of Atlanta, Mott was among the many thousands who were sent from Andersonville to other prisons such as Savannah or Millen, Georgia, because the Confederate authorities believed Sherman would try to liberate Andersonville Prison.

Private John A. Cain was aboard one of the first prison trains to arrive at Andersonville from Richmond. He survived the war and served as a strong witness for the prosecution of Captain Henri Wirz, commandant of Andersonville Prison. His testimony is therefore, in my judgment, credible. I include the following information included in the Epilogue of Diary of a Dead Man, because it specifically mentions Mott. What we don’t know is the motives behind Mott’s “defection.”

Note: The material below is from background material included in The Diary of a Dead Man, 1862-1864, the unedited diary and letters of Private Ira Pettit, compiled by J. P. Ray. Mott was instrumental in preserving Pettit’s diary for Pettit’s parents.

It becomes quite evident from subsequent events that Private Cain was one of those thousands who was shuttled back and forth from Andersonville to Savannah, to Millen, and back again to Andersonville during the last four months of 1864. From St. John’s College Hospital on June 3,1865, Private Cain corresponded with the Secretary of War. His letter to the Honorable E. M. Stanton read, in part:

“Deeming it my duty to myself and my country, I here send you a partial list of Union prisoners who left the Stockade prison at Camp Lawton near Millen, Ga. on, or about the 10th of November last; and is supposed to have taken the ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to the late ‘Confederate Government.’ Should this be of any service to you in bringing them to justice I shall consider myself amply compensated for my trouble.

I am, sir, your most humble and obedient servant,
Jno. A. Cain, Co. E, 2 Mass Cav.,
Ward 8, St. Johns College Hospital, Annapolis, Maryland.

List of Prisoners of War, who left the stockade at the Solicitation of rebel authorities at Millen, Ga., on or about the 10th, November 1864 for disloyal purposes. …Wm. E. Mott, F., 14 Conn;…”

Private Cain’s list contained the names of one hundred and thirty-four persons, and in nearly all cases he listed the company, regiment, and state or Federal unit in which the individual had served. Aside from William E. Mott, Company F, Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut, Private Cain listed two other men from the Fourteenth Regiment’s Company F, Connecticut, and four members from Companies A, B, L, and M, Second Massachusetts Cavalry, who allegedly embraced allegiance to the Confederate government on that day.

The information provided by Private John A. Cain in reference to Private Mott was duly noted in the appropriate categories of the War Department’s military files, and note was also made that Mott reached the Union lines on March 20, 1865, at New Bern, North Carolina.

According to Mrs. John Gregory of New York City, Private Mott had come ‘home’ in April, 1865, on furlough after having spent eight months as a prisoner, and having been transferred from one prison to another. Mr. Mott would later assert to the Federal government that he had spent over ten months in Andersonville, which was an exaggeration, after which he had escaped and joined Sherman on his march through the South. While in New York, Mott gave Mrs. Gregory Private Pettit’s diary and she sent by mail to Pettit’s parents in upstate New York.

There could have been several reasons why Wm. H. E. Mott would have sworn allegiance to the Confederacy. The most likely reason, in my opinion, was a matter of personal survival, and whatever else Mott was, he was certainly a survivor. By removing himself from the deadly prison stockades, he instantly enjoyed better water and food, and healthier living conditions. Opportunities for escape, and the probability of success, were also much higher outside the prison walls. When Mott did finally escape, he headed north toward the Union lines. It is also worthy of note that although the war department had John Cain’s list, no steps were taken to prosecute Mott, and he received the standard veteran’s pension of $72 per month.

Hatcher’s Run

As January 1865 drew to a close, rumors of possible peace flew up and down the lines of both armies outside of Petersburg. On the 29th, a three-man delegation from Richmond, led by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, passed through the lines under a flag of truce. It was their hope to travel to Washington to open serious discussions on how the war might be ended and peace restored between “our two countries.”

President Lincoln had the Confederate delegation delayed at City Point and wired Gen. Grant that he was not to alter any plans he had for prosecuting the war, no matter what he heard about peace talks. President Lincoln then ordered the delegation sent to Fort Monroe at Hampton Roads, where on February 3rd, Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward met with the Confederate delegates on board the steamer River Queen. When asked if there was any way to put an end to the war, Lincoln’s reply was short and crystal clear. “There is but one way. Those who are resisting the laws of the Union must cease their resistance.” This was simply a reworded repetition of what Lincoln had already communicated to Jefferson Davis directly, that the war would end only when the South ceased hostilities and submitted to the laws of “our one common country.” The peace conference ended with both sides as far apart as ever.

Meanwhile, Grant had heeded President Lincoln’s advice. Early on Sunday morning, February 5th, a force of about 35,000 men, consisting of Gen. Warren’s Fifth Corps, the second and third divisions of Gen. Humphreys’ Second Corps, Gen. Gregg’s cavalry division, and artillery, left their camps in another attempt to disrupt the western supply route. The men of the Second Corps slogged westward along the north side of Hatcher’s Run and established a defensive line just east of Burgess Mill where they had fought in October. (See posts of 10/24/2014 and 10/31/2014.) At the same time the Fifth Corps advanced westward south of Hatcher’s Run.

Late in the afternoon the Confederates attacked the newly entrenched men of the Second Corps. (Click to view a Civil War Trust map.) The two divisions fought off several determined assaults and held their position. The 14th CT was in Pierce’s Brigade and was held in reserve to be used as needed to protect the left flank. Sgt. Charles Blatchley (14th CT, Co. I) told of this battle in Charles Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry:

Our line had been formed and rifle pits (breastworks) thrown up and the picks and shovels carried away by the Pioneer Corps when it was discovered by the fire of the advancing enemy that a mistake had been made and the line was at exactly right angles to the proper direction. The change in the line was quickly made and a new line of works erected under fire by the men without tools and the celerity with which this was accomplished showed what could be done under a certain amount and kind of pressure. We occupied this line for several days and one night here I had the experience of being frozen in bed. It rained and freezing as it fell, our blankets were firmly frozen to the earth and we under them in the morning.

During the change of position described above, one man was killed, Lt. Franklin Bartlett (Co. F), the youngest officer in the regiment. Several others were wounded. South of Hatcher’s Run, parts of the Fifth Corps fought a back and forth battle around Dabney’s Mill on February 6th, during which Confederate Brig. Gen. John Pegram was killed.

The Battle of Hatcher’s Run was considered a Union victory. True, a smaller Confederate force had once again stopped the advance of a Federal force twice their size and the vital western supply route remained unmolested. But the ground taken and held by the Second Corps allowed the Federal line of entrenchments to stretch to Armstrong’s Mill, three miles closer to the South Side Railroad that continued to shuttle Confederate supplies and men into Petersburg.